Empire State NORML in Albany with the Start SMART Campaign

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Lobby Day
The Drug Policy Alliance, along with other campaign pillar groups Empire State NORML, VOCAL-NY, Cannabis Cultural Association, LatinoJustice and the Immigrant Defense Project, held a press conference and lobby day to announce the Start Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade (Start SMART) campaign to advocate for the substantially amended version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) this past Monday, June 12th.

Dozens of activists from all around the state took buses, drove cars and rode trains to Albany to join the campaign in launching and lobbying for the legalization bill. After the excellent citizen lobby day training provided by the Drug Policy Alliance, the group split up to divide and conquer before the press conference hitting as many offices as they could as well as attending scheduled meetings.

In the afternoon the press conference was held in front of the Senate Chambers. Joining advocates at the press conference were the MRTA’s prime sponsors in both houses, Senator Liz Krueger (D-New York) and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), as well as key MRTA sponsors including: Assemblymember Dick Gottfried (D-New York), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), Senator Jesse Hamilton (IDC-Brooklyn), Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), Assemblymember Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Michael Blake (D-Bronx). We also heard from representatives of Start SMART pillar groups, Drug Policy Alliance (Kassandra Frederique), Empire State NORML (Doug Greene), LatinoJustice (Juan Cartagena), VOCAL-NY (Nick Malinowski), Immigrant Defense Project (Mizue Aizeki) and Cannabis Cultural Association (Nelson Guerrero and Jacob Plowden).

Afterwards the group of dedicated activists went back to work. Some went to the Senate and Assembly chambers to pull their members off the floor to seek their support of the new bill, while others continued dropping off materials at the offices of legislators who have voted for further decriminalization but haven’t supported taxation and regulation of marijuana.

The Start SMART campaign

The substantially amended MRTA would reestablish a legal market for marijuana in New York and create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and the craft brewery industry, for adults over the age of 21. Over the past twenty years, nearly 800,000 people have been negatively affected by the harms of prohibition. With people of color accounting for nearly 85% of those arrested annually for possession, the collateral consequences are felt most in these communities. Because of the racial injustice caused by prohibition, the bill is not only an end to prohibition in New York, but also a win in the ongoing fight for racial equality. Significant steps are taken to ensure that those most negatively affected by prohibition will benefit from its repeal.

The reworked Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) includes substantial racial justice and small business-friendly amendments, including:

  • Creating a micro-license structure, similar to New York’s rapidly growing craft wine and beer industry, that allows small-scale production and sale plus delivery to reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing.
  • Establishing the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which will invest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming.
  • Ensuring diversity in New York’s marijuana industry by removing barriers to access like capital requirements and building inclusivity by allowing licensing to people with prior drug convictions. Only people with business-related convictions (such as fraud or tax evasion) will be explicitly barred from receiving licenses

Start SMART NY is a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities convened by the Drug Policy Alliance in partnership with groups dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition, including Empire State NORML.

NY resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the bill. 

Make sure to visit Empire State NORML’s website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Click here to see the press release from earlier in the week. and click here to go to the Start SMART NY website

West Virginia NORML Makes Final Push For Medical Marijuana Legislation

WV NORML[UPDATE: On Thursday, April 5, members of the House and Senate concurred on an amended version of SB 386, which significantly curtails patient protections included in the initial version of the bill. The amended bill now awaits action from Gov. Jim Justice, who is expected to sign it in to law.]

Marijuana advocates in West Virginia are celebrating after the state senate voted to pass a bill that would legalize and regulate the use of medical marijuana in the Mountain State. After surviving two committee assignments, and being amended to allow home cultivation by registered patients, Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Senator Richard Ojeda, passed out of the full Senate by a considerable margin of 28-6.

West Virginia has a medical marijuana bill that is close to becoming law. Senate Bill 386 was introduced early in the session and surprisingly made its way through both of its assigned committees with very little opposition,” said David Dawson, Legal Counsel for West Virginia NORML. “SB 386  passed the Senate with huge support, 28-6, and is now on its second reading in the House of Delegates.”

In the weeks leading up to the Senate vote on SB 386, Jesse Johnson, executive director of West Virginia NORML, along Rusty Williams, West Virginia NORML board member, worked diligently to build a broad coalition of volunteer advocates to lobby state lawmakers in support of the bill. From regularly calling legislative offices and writing their representatives, to meeting face to face with lawmakers, it’s safe to say SB 386 would not be where it is today if not for the efforts of West Virginia NORML.

“These folks have worked their tails off and produced spectacular and unexpected results. The West Virginia legislature has shown what I knew it was capable of, bi-partisan compassion for our fellow West Virginians. The fight still continues as House opposition is seeking to amend the bill to death and put on expert testimony in opposition,” added Dawson.

While there’s certainly a reason to celebrate, SB 386 still faces an uncertain future. With an uphill battle expected in the House of Delegates, members of West Virginia NORML are calling for supporters of SB 386 to join them in a final push to encourage a yes vote from members of the House.

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TAKE ACTION: Contact West Virginia Lawmakers to Urge a YES vote on SB 386

For future updates on marijuana law reform efforts in the Mountain State, follow West Virginia NORML by visiting their website and Facebook page!

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